The season long trek through the waters of the regular season is coming to a close for the San Jose Sharks. From the depths of the first half to the highs of the playoff drive, Sharks fans have seen it all and yet it’s somehow vastly different.
With the playoffs quickly approaching, the Sharks took to the road in a potential playoff preview against the Kings.
Coming into the second game in as many nights, the Sharks show no sign of letting off the gas going 13-2-2 in their last 17 games. Coming off a dominating performance against the Calgary Flames, the Sharks are getting contributions from all four lines.
The Kings awaited the Sharks and has been playing good hockey of late, so the game figured to be a great one and it didn’t disappoint. Going 5-1-2 the Kings were locked in a three-way tie for fifth, but just one point away from eighth-place Anaheim.
Antti Niemi would take his 29th straight start, and the last time we saw Antero Niittymaki was back in Jan 13. Marc-Edouard Vlasic did not play due to a lower-body injury, and Niclas Wallin returned to action on the third pairing with Justin Braun.
The Sharks made it a point to focus on starting fast and started decently with Setoguchi missing on a near goal just three minutes in. The Kings turned it up in response, and hemmed the Sharks in their own zone for some long stretches halfway through the first. With just five minutes left in the first period, the Kings where outshooting the Sharks to the tune of 11-6 and carried play for long stretches.
With just 30 seconds left in the first, Jarret Stoll took a penalty as Demers was skating the puck through the neutral zone. Demers had some confidence last night but made a few mistakes late that could have cost San Jose. The Sharks powerplay is firing on all cylinders, scoring in their last eight straight games.
Joe Pavelski made it nine straight on a pretty deflection goal early in the second period on a Patrick Marleau shot-pass from the point. Little Joe keeps coming at the right time of the year, and opened the scoring for the Sharks against the league’s best penalty-kill.
Just five minutes later, Jamal Mayers took a horrible holding penalty with 14 left in the second period. Dustin Brown tied the score shortly thereafter on the hustle play of Alexei Ponikarovsky of all people. Better communication between Wallin and Braun could have prevented the goal, as Niemi couldn’t get back in position in time.
Just a few seconds later on a sequence following a Joe Thornton turnover deep in his own zone, Willie Mitchell slapped home the rebound for the Kings 2-1 lead. With just five minutes Matt Greene cross-checked Heatley after the whistle directly in front of Jonathan Quick. Referee Brad Watson then felt the need to “restore” order by calling Clowe on a highly questionable roughing call. I just don’t see why this is a penalty in late March, I really don’t.
The Sharks shot themselves in the foot with yet another penalty as Clowe went back to the sin bin with two minutes remaining. The Kings outshot the Sharks 13-4 in the period and just had more jump than the tired Sharks did.
The Sharks had to rebound in the third and they had some jump coming out of the intermission, outshooting the Kings 6-2 early. Both Setoguchi and Couture had some golden chances but couldn’t find the back of the net, recording three shots apiece early.
Niclas Wallin whiffed on a puck high in the slot midway through the third and Niemi had some save his bacon, stopping a wide open Trevor Lewis.
Needing to even the score the Sharks needed someone to step up and take control of the game, and Patrick Marleau again answered the call. Streaking down the wing, Marleau let loose a wrister using Drew Dougthy as a screen, tying the score 2-2 with just three minutes left in the game.
Joe Thornton took a horrible interference penalty just 30 seconds later, not a very smart penalty at that stage of the game. Dustin Brown scored again on a one-timer feed from Handzus, giving the Kings the 3-2 lead with just a minute and a half remaining.
After several failed attempts to pull Niemi, the Sharks finally got the extra attacker with just 30 seconds left in the game. The puck went out of play in the Kings zone with just 11 seconds left in the game, and thanks to the coaching staff three more seconds were added to the clock.
With just three seconds left in the game, Patrick Marleau slammed home the equalizer from a Clowe pass across the crease.
Niemi saved the day again in overtime with some huge saves, highlighted by the Anze Kopitar snapshot following Dan Boyle’s broken stick. Jason Demers made a poor mistake turning the puck over right in front of the net, Heatley almost put the puck into his own net in support. The Sharks somehow made a line change during a Kings rush up the ice and Niemi had to stand on his head to stop Ryan Smith cold.
Antti showed again why he’s been the Sharks season MVP in overtime—he just keeps saving the day through some bad turnovers.
The Kings took the victory in the shootout after overtime, with both Stoll and Brown scoring to the same location as Stoll’s previous shootout winner earlier this year.
In a wild and crazy game, the loss against the Kings was yet another that built confidence in the Sharks moving forward. With the game on the line, facing some questionable calls or with just 11 seconds in the game the Sharks keep finding ways to battle back.
They move into a tie with the Detroit Red Wings for the second seed despite falling to the LA Kings in a shootout. Patrick Marleau continues his clutch play in key situations this year and Joe Pavelski remains as hot as he was in February.
Antti Niemi made 35 saves for the San Jose Sharks, who now have 95 points and lead Phoenix in the Pacific by two points. The big question still is: when will Antero Niittymaki take a start in between the pipes for the San Jose Sharks?
Could this line be something special in the playoffs? They are generating chances, and seem to have some terrific chemistry going right now. The hustle, forecheck and offensive zone creativity had this line highly effective against the Kings along the boards.
Patty keeps coming up big for the Sharks and he now has seven goals, and 14 points in his last 10 games. He’s gotten off the minus train and he’s playing the best hockey of the year, and playing full speed from his zone outward. He’s playing confident and looks ready to make some noise in the playoffs, now if Heatley would just start scoring……
What didn’t work:
Niclas Wallin – Justin Braun
The third pair had a rough outing against the Kings, and most of the big mistakes weren’t made by the kid who just came back up from the AHL. I don’t know what shocks me more, that Wallin continues to make the same horrific mistakes or that I’m completely numb to them now.
The Sharks travel to Phoenix to take on the Coyotes, and hold a game in hand over the second place team in the Pacific. Phoenix has eight wins in their last 10 games and is coming off of a 3-0 shutout over the Columbus Blue Jackets. With eight wins and 18 points in their last 10 games, the Coyotes have a 19-12-6 record at home and may be getting Ed Jovanovski back.